June 27, 2008

Loan to Help Draw More Water to Blowing Rock: Money to Enable Town to Link Up to Boone’s Water System

By Monte Mitchell, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.


The town of Blowing Rock has been awarded a $2.2 million emergency loan to help it connect to Boone's water system, Gov. Mike Easley said yesterday.

Easley warned that drought conditions are worse now than at this time last year, and the this summer's situation may be more serious than last year's. The federal drought map released yesterday showed 14 counties in Western North Carolina in exceptional drought.

All but three of the state's 100 counties are in some level of drought.

The loan should complete the financing needed to connect the water systems of Blowing Rock, Boone and Appalachian State University, said Scott Hildebran, Blowing Rock's town manager.

Hildebran said he hopes that the project could be finished in 18 months to two years.

Both Boone and Blowing Rock were among 11 communities that the state identified this past winter as facing North Carolina's most severe water shortages because of the drought. The mountain communities are vulnerable, in part because they are closer to the headwaters of rivers.

The state pledged to help the communities find money to pay for emergency improvements.

The Blowing Rock Town Council and the Boone Town Council both voted in March to connect the towns' water systems.

The N.C. Rural Center had already awarded grants for the project, giving $1 million to Boone and $500,000 to Watauga County. Blowing Rock received a grant of $300,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Mayor Loretta Clawson of Boone and Chancellor Ken Peacock of Appalachian State University signed an agreement in January to connect the Boone and ASU water and sewer systems. They agreed to share the $250,000 cost of design and construction.

ASU has a new water-treatment plant, which can more than meet the university's needs. When the plant opened in 2006, officials said that they thought that it could treat enough water to be able to sell some to Boone.

They said that the interconnection could be a source of emergency water for Boone, while ASU would benefit by receiving credit for water that it uses in university-owned buildings that are off-campus and served by the town's water system.

Boone is looking for additional water sources to help meet future needs. Last week the town council voted to have an environmental assessment done at a proposed intake on the South Fork of the New River near Todd.

Last summer, a number of storms drenched Boone, but left Blowing Rock bone dry.

That luck has changed a bit. Hildebran said that a thunderstorm swept through Blowing Rock yesterday.

"We're doing fairly well," he said. "We're getting more rain, but it's still dry."

Town officials have been working for at least five years to find ways to pay for the improvements to the water system.

Easley also announced loans yesterday of $5.8 million for the city of Lenoir for a new water intake and pump, and $1.4 million for the town of Tryon to build an interconnection with Saluda.

In Forsyth County, Pat Swann, the chairman of the City-County Utility Commission, said that the county still has a good water supply.

But, Swann said that voluntary water-conservation measures could be announced soon.

"The water is low in the Yadkin River; it is probably lower than normal but not as low as it has been," Swann said.

"We will just have to watch it as time goes on."

Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at 336-667-5691 or at [email protected]

Journal reporter Blair Goldstein contributed to this article.

Journal Map by Jeremy Boyd -- Click to enlarge

Journal Map by Jeremy Boyd -- Click to enlarge


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